01/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Closet Cleaning Leads to Economic Enlightenment

Fall is a crunchy, crispy time of year full of turtlenecks, brown boots and long tweed coats. It's the season where jeans look longingly at cable sweaters, faithful companions returned. In my mind, there's no better time to clean out my closet and get my clothes ready for the new year just around the corner.

But this year, in light of the economic crisis, as I was face-to-face with that fifth pair of black pants - unworn and tags still attached - I had to ask myself, when did I become more fashionable consumer and less concerned citizen?

Of course, I'm as incensed as the next investor that Wall Street played fast and loose with our individual funds and collective future. And certainly, the present administration showed an alarming lack of leadership when it came to a judicious use of our financial resources. The Bush years seemed to call out to us to spend rather than save, purchase rather than protest, and keep our heads down while the big kids of government promised to keep us out of harm's way. They may have been the enablers, but in my own life, I'm the leader, and I can't honestly say I've been doing a much better job.

As the pile of clothes never worn (and soon to be sold at the consignment shop) grew, I could see that my closet cleaning had yielded some much needed economic enlightenment - the realization that too much stuff can be just as suffocating to my sense of freedom as too little.

Like many Americans, I have a lot of stuff. Stuff I own that I don't need. Stuff I bought because it was on sale. Stuff I spent money on that I won't ever use. Stuff I purchased to keep up with the Joneses. Stuff to make me look like the size 2, 25-year-old models in the magazines instead of the size 6 (okay, maybe 8), 48-year-old I am, and stuff I spend countless hours cleaning, organizing, repairing, maintaining and insuring.

I'm not burning my Nordstrom's card just yet, and the artist in me still loves the aesthetic of a well-put-together outfit. Stuff is fine; I just don't need so much of it. As I overheard one French woman recently declare, "How can American women possibly dress well, with so many choices?"

In doing my part to turn around the current financial fooforrah, I've decided that in 2009, while President-elect Obama and his cabinet face their challenges and plan out their changes, my personal reform and recovery strategy is going to be to re-familiarize myself with a word I've grown a bit rusty at - sufficiency.

Sufficiency is defined by the Encarta World Dictionary as: 1. an amount of something that is enough for somebody or something; and 2. the fact or state of being enough. Sufficiency means asking myself: Do I really need this? Will I be happy to have bought it? Will it add to my sense of freedom or take away from it? As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once suggested, if I ask the right questions, perhaps someday, I may live my way into the answers.

So Mr. President-elect and members of Congress, do I think you can bring this country back to a sober spending plan and a responsible fiscal platform? And can I manage to resist the siren song of designer shoes at a half-off sale and instead, spend my time and resources in pursuit of more civic-minded service and soul-satisfying activities? Yes, I think we can.

Karen Leland is author of the recently released books Time Management In An Instant
She is the co-founder of Sterling Consulting Group. For questions or comments, please e-mail